Sex In Writing


Kiss (Photo credit: Ko:(char *)hook)

I recently discovered a hotbed of discussion regarding sex in writing. While the specifics were regarding sex in Young Adult writing and the controversies surrounding whether or not it’s appropriate to have sexual content in that genre. I’m not opening that can of worms here, but it does bring up an important discussion.

A great deal of fiction involves elements of romance. Whether it’s a romance novel or a spy thriller, many books contain a romance. It’s not necessarily a sexual romance, but almost everyone likes to see a little romance. Some sexual tension. Take the show “Castle” for example. I haven’t seen the whole series, of course (I’m up to season four; I know, I’m behind). However, the sexual tension and budding romance between Castle and Beckett is one of the main focal points of the series. Much similar to Fox and Sculley from X-Files.

Sex is a touchy subject. We’ll start there. There are people who love it, people who hate it, people who hate who others have it with, people who… You get the idea. However, there are a few things I want to mention. And I’m not talking to those that write graphic, explicit smut (hey, I don’t judge – as long as you write it well have at it!).

First of all it shouldn’t be forced. If you aren’t comfortable writing about the details of sex… don’t. It will come off stilted, nervous, and awkward. You’re better off fading to black at a key point and letting the reader imagine it. Just because you have sex in your writing doesn’t mean you need to tell the readers everything.

Second, unless you’re an author of smut for smut’s sake (again, no judgment here), it should be a side dish to the main story. I am guilty of having read some smut here and there, but I will tell you this: I stopped reading Laurel K. Hamilton’s writing when the smut took over the plot. It’s something that can happen in writing and when you have characters that become sexually active it shouldn’t take over the story.

Laurel K. Hamilton’s book, “Micah” had (no joke) a single sex scene last for a full two chapters. Two chapters. Let that sink in for a minute… You still with me? I stopped reading there because I couldn’t follow the plot. I actually ended up skipping the steamy stuff and trying to find the plot again and by the time I’d finished the book I was very unsatisfied. I had been in love with the series up until about Narcissus in Chains which was when it went downhill (for me). Don’t do this to yourself. Even if your characters are sexually active, and it’s something you’re comfortable writing don’t drown your plot in it. Otherwise your writing becomes less storytelling and more “Dear Penthouse…”

Third, you should make sure the level of sexual activity is appropriate for your readers. If you are writing a YA novel and want to include sex (I am not going to say which side of the argument I’m on) then don’t do so in a graphic manner. Your audience needs to be thought of. Consider the YA genre to be like a Rated PG-13 – R crowd. If your book would rate NC-17 or “X” then you shouldn’t put it in the YA label. It just isn’t morally right.

As in all things, you need to consider your readers. If your readers are looking to your book as a thrill then by all means, include whatever you like. But try to take care when writing sex to not take it further than you’re comfortable with and is appropriate for the genre.

I want to close this by saying I’m not a prude. I understand a fair amount about sex and sexuality in many forms. I’ve researched it in the course of my study of human nature and psychology. It is something that is too quickly given little meaning by many people when it should be an important act. I know this sounds a little preachy, but I feel that sexual intimacy is a sacred thing. It should be treated with respect, and it should be treated with caution. Books can quickly get bogged down when you end up in sex scenes because authors are not sure how to write about it, are afraid of offending people, or are just uncomfortable with the topic.

Ultimately you need to make the decision for yourself about what to include, how much to include, and whether or not to include it at all. But hopefully this has at least made you think a little about the decision. It should not be made blindly and ought to receive due consideration.


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